The Other Village

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Narvik, Norway (wikipedia)

Narvik, Norway (wikipedia)

I’m currently reading Managed by Markets: How Finance Reshaped America about which I’ll offer substantive comments later. One thing I will note is that the book contains several different references to “Norwegian villagers” losing money in the great Panic of 2007–2008. The reference is to the Terra Securities Scandal in which several town pension funds, including Narvik, in Norway lost money in speculative hedge fund investments. The rhetorical force of the term “villagers” seems to me to be a bit curious in this context. Narvik is a small town (population 18,000) and fairly isolated, but we never refer to anyone in the United States as a “villager” no matter where they live. Senator Susan Collins, for example, is from Caribou, Maine which is an even smaller town (population 8,000) and I’d say just about as isolated.

The reason is that “villager” carries with it a certain connotation of primitivism. But Norway’s per capita GDP is higher than the United States’ — either a bit higher if you use PPP or much higher if you use current exchange rates. They perennial rank at the very top of the UN’s Human Development Index. They have the world’s highest proportion of college graduates. Narvik itself contains a college with 1,200 students.